I’m very bad at rhythm action games. I love them, but I get so easily flustered with them that when I miss one note, I then miss every subsequent one too. But yet I play, and really get into, every one I play for the sheer catharsis of the experience. So, I jumped at the chance to dive into Numskull Games first publishing project, the futuristic-styled Cytus α.
There is a story here, although it bares no real relevance to the gameplay. Set in the future, complete with the uploading of human consciousness to machines, a virus breaks out ruining all of this advancement and the world. This is told through Data Logs that take the form of official documents and diaries, among other things and add a nice (if unneeded) context to the game.
Gameplay-wise, Cytus α is much alike other rhythm games, with the player pressing the right buttons in time to the music playing. These will either involve tapping a button (or the touch screen), holding it down for longer notes, or holding a shoulder button/sliding a finger for the more directional notes. The complexity then comes with how much of this is ongoing at any one time.
Cytus αshows the BPM of a song by how quickly the horizontal black line across the screen moves up and down. It’s this more than the actual button presses themselves that’s really going to push you, as the correct timing of the button presses is when the line is in the middle of the circle and – with the line moving at a blistering pace on occasion – this ain’t easy.
The timings of the presses themselves can be a little confusing at first – and the tutorial is zero help – but once you nail them there’s few games that feel as satisfying. I appreciate that this is a trope of the rhythm action genre across the board, and isn’t entirely localised within Cytus α, but the visual and tangible simplicity of this title really aids in the appreciation of this concept.
One issue I found with Cytus αwas actually with the difficulty itself, especially as there was no real consistency with the labelling of said difficulty. You could play several different songs ranked as “4” (out of what I don’t know) and have all of them feel very different in terms of how hard they were pushing the player. Plus, putting a “7” in Chapter 2’s Easy Mode was undeniably cheeky.
If you have no trouble with the Easy Mode, there’s a Hard Mode to try your hand at too for every song. But if the Easy Mode is a bit too much of a challenge, you can alter aspects of the game such as making the beats make a sound when pressed, which really helps to contextualise the press within the song playing, or having all notes on screen instead of them popping up.
With the sheer amount of songs available here, across ten Chapters with each of those having a sub chapter, there’s a lot of content for your money. That’s not even factoring in the Global Ranking system or Matchmaking with other players. The latter of these is sadly dependent on people playing. I sadly couldn’t get matches, so can’t speak for how well that system works.
Cytus α has visuals to match the simplicity of the gameplay, often with the only backgrounds that are simply a faded version of the image that represents the song that you’re working through, then the notes the players have to hit are sharply metallic circles, arrows, and lines laid over these stark backgrounds, with the solid black horizontal line slicing across the screen.
Some of this artwork, it should be pointed out, is stunning. Rayark have clearly brought a variety of different artists on board for the splash art on the songs, and the varied styles and levels of detail across the board is astounding. If you have a little bit of a weakness for good anime imagery, this game delivers solid works of glum expressions and impossible hairstyles.
None of anything I’ve said before now would matter, however, if the music in this rhythm action title wasn’t up to the task. I’m a little mixed on this side of things because there’s some awesome tracks here, it’s just not consistently great. You definitely won’t be left wanting for variety though, with a lot of different genres getting a look in, even some DJ MAX tracks appear.
What’s more, should you be a fan of the music in the game, I’ve seen that the publisher have also released a physical edition of the game that contains a soundtrack. Obviously, I received this title as a review code, so cannot speak for how many tracks are on the CD, but it’s a neat little addition nonetheless, should you want to take some of these awesome tracks on the go.
Those wanting a solid rhythm action title really should give Cytus α a look. The simple gameplay and visual design, extensive song variety, and immense challenge should satisfy the needs of anyone wanting some musical tapping on Switch. It’s really only let down by shockingly inconsistent difficulty, empty player base, and an immensely baffling tutorial system.
This all being said, if you aren’t into the genre, it’s really hard to recommend Cytus α as it doesn’t hold anything outside that framework, there’s no deep narrative hook to pull you in, nor and extensive amount of customisable options to unlock and play around with. If you love the genre though, this is a simple and solid example that should have you tapping for a long while.